Apple iBooks 2 demo in NYC - 01.19.2012See all photos
To launch one of these textbooks you simply go into iBooks like normal, select the title you want with a tap and then wait a few moments. These big textbooks are a bit sluggish to load, but then again many of them have FMV intros -- just like the CD-ROM games of the '90s. Thankfully you can skip past that and get to the meat of the books. And there is a lot of meat. Life on Earth clocks in at 965MB, and that's just two chapters. Pearson's Biology is 2.7GB!
Interacting with the books is a generally intuitive combination of tapping, swiping and pinching. You can pinch from any page to get out to the heading of that chapter, then drag along a bar on the bottom to quickly go from one chapter to the next. When you're looking at any page, you can get a closer view of any of the media there by simply pinching it. Tiny picture of an ant? Give it a nudge and it's full-screen. You can then swipe through galleries, play movies and interact with various other widgets that authors can drop in place.
The view is awfully flashy and fun and, we must say, a little bit distracting. Maybe that's just because we're used to boring old textbooks, though. If you do want a more streamlined view, just tilt the iPad into portrait view. Here the images and media take a back seat to the text.
Taking notes is as easy as long-tapping on any word and then dragging your finger across. The highlight is created and you can then type additional notes on top of that. Once that's done, you can aggregate all your notes together and make flashcards, even have definitions on one side and key terms on the other. We do wonder if the process of writing the 3 x 5-inch cards wasn't part of the learning, but this genuinely makes learning more fun, and that's something.
Still, those are minor questions compared to what is a pretty amazing demonstration. These books aren't hugely better than interactive books we've seen before, but they are going to be free to create and may will sell for just $14.99. Major publishers Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are already playing along, releasing textbooks that are used in millions of schools worldwide. It's an impressive launch and, if Apple has anything to say about it, this is only the beginning.
Darren Murph contributed to this report.